A Farewell To Arms Summary – Book I Chapters 1-6
The novel begins on the Italian-Austrian border during the First World War. The story is told in the first person. The narrator opens the story with a description of late summer in a small village near the mountains. There is a river and a plain beneath the mountains where the armies are fighting and at night the flashes from the artillery are visible in the village. The weather is pleasant and gradually changes from summer to autumn. Many troops and military vehicles pass through the village on their way to the front. Occasionally the Italian King passes through the village in his motorcar on the way to inspect his troops. The war goes badly for the Italians and then the winter rain brings a cholera epidemic. The narrator notes that “in the end only seven thousand died of it in the army.”
The following year the war goes better for the Italians and the narrator describes the fine house and the town of Gorzia where he resides during this period. Although only less than a mile from the fighting in the mountains, Gorzia has mostly been spared from destruction and swells with the increased wartime activity. It has cafes, hospitals and bordellos, one for enlisted and one for officers. Outside the town, however, there is much damage from battles. On the day of the first snowfall, which marks the end of the season for fighting, the narrator is walking in the remains of the forest. Later, he sits in the bordello for officers, drinking asti with a friend who, upon seeing the priest from their mess, jokingly indicates that the priest should join them. That evening, after the mess of spaghetti and red wine, the captain begins his regular harassment, or “priest-baiting”, of the priest. He accuses the priest of having been with girls and the priest, embarrassed, shakes his head. The captain makes a rude joke and comments that the Pope wants the Austrians to win the war. He declares himself to be an atheist and recommends an anti-Catholic book to the narrator. The narrator changes the subject and suggests that with the coming of the snow the fighting will cease for awhile. The major enthusiastically suggests that the narrator should go on leave and see some of the country. A lively discussion develops as to where the narrator should take his leave and the priest describes the simple pleasures to be found hunting in his native mountain village of Abruzzi. The captain begins a lewd finger-shadow game to illustrate the girls of Naples and the group elects to go the bordello. The narrator says goodnight to the priest before he leaves to join the others.
The winter has passed when the narrator returns from his leave to find that his unit is still living in the same town. It is spring and the countryside is full of new life. The narrator notices that there are more artillery pieces placed around the town and that more of the buildings have been damaged by shellfire. The house he occupied the previous fall is the same as when he left and he goes to the upstairs room he shares with lieutenant Rinaldi, a likable and exuberant surgeon with whom he has become friends. Upon entering the room, he sees that his things are where he left them. Rinaldi, who is lying on the other bed, wakes up when he hears his friend enter the room. The narrator tells Rinaldi that he had a “magnificent” time on leave and Rinaldi, overjoyed at his return, greets his friend with a kiss. The narrator says that he went “everywhere” but admits that Milan was the best. Rinaldi immediately grasps the truth of the situation and asks about the woman he met in Milan with questions such as “where did you meet her” and “did you stay all night” to which the narrator responds that he in fact did “stay all night.”
Rinaldi explains that they now have many new beautiful girls in the village bordello, new to the front, as well as several pretty English nurses. He cavalierly confesses that he has fallen in love with one of them, Miss Barkley, and insists that the narrator accompany him on his next visit to her. The narrator describes Rinaldi as “good-looking, was my age, and he came from Amalfi. He loved being a surgeon and we were great friends.” Rinaldi borrows fifty lire from the narrator before going back to bed.
At that evening’s mess, the narrator discovers that the priest is somewhat hurt that he did not go to visit the priest’s family in Abruzzi during his leave. After some explanation and a great deal of drinking, the priest understands that the narrator would have liked to have gone but people very rarely get to do what they want. The narrator admits to himself that he did not go to any simple and pure mountain villages like Abruzzi, but spent his furlough in smoky cafes drinking to excess and sleeping with strange women; activities followed by mixed feelings of pleasure and repulsion for the excesses. The narrator tries to explain all this to the priest and the priest understands his friend’s weaknesses and they are still friends. The priest-baiting captain interrupts their conversation by declaring that the priest is not happy without girls, wants the Austrians to win the war and never wants the Italian army to attack. The priest denies all the accusations and the major asks that the priest be left alone. The mess adjourns.
The narrator is awakened in the morning by the sound of an artillery battery in the next garden firing shells over the house toward the enemy. He admits that it is a nuisance, but is glad that the gun is not any bigger. After coffee in the kitchen he visits the garage to inspect the ambulances. He finds ten blunt-nosed ambulances being tended to by mechanics. He asks one of the mechanics if the battery in the next garden is ever shelled by return fire and is satisfied to learn that it is not. The Italian enlisted men refer to him as “Signor Tenente” which reveals his rank in the Italian army to be that of Lieutenant. The mechanic explains that one of the cars is broken but the others work fine. When the same mechanic asks him if he had a good time on leave, all the other mechanics grin knowingly. After inspecting the other cars, the narrator comes to the realization that it did not matter whether he was personally there or not and the task of retrieving the wounded and maintaining the cars had continued successfully without him. He returns to the kitchen for more coffee before visiting the posts in the mountains. He returns to the village in the late afternoon.
The narrator explains that during the offensive that was to begin soon, the troops would cross the river above a narrow gorge and attack up a hillside. The ambulances would have to be stationed very near the river to pick up the wounded and transport them back to the hospital.
The narrator returns to the room and finds Rinaldi dressed cleanly and reading a copy of Hugo’s English Grammar. Rinaldi insists that he accompany him to visit Miss Barkley and after initially refusing, the narrator eventually agrees. The narrator cleans himself in the basin and before they leave, they each have two glasses of grappa. The British hospital is in a big villa and there they find Miss Barkley and another nurse sitting in the garden. Miss Barkley engages the narrator in conversation and remarks that it is odd for him, an American, to be serving in the Italian army. The narrator points out that it is only the ambulance corps but Miss Barkley persists in her assertion that it is odd. The narrator remarks that “there isn’t always an explanation for everything” and Miss Barkley counters that she was raised to believe that everything has a reason. Miss Barkley asks if they have to continue talking “this way” (meaning formally and without touching upon personal subjects) and the narrator admits that they do not.
The narrator describes Miss Barkley as tall; wearing a white nurse’s uniform with long blonde hair, tawny skin and gray eyes, and very beautiful. She carries a thin rattan stick that upon questioning she explains belonged to a boy who was killed in the Battle of the Somme. They had been engaged for eight years and had known each other all their lives. She explains that she was pledged to marry him but had postponed the date because she thought it would be bad for him to go to war with a wife at home. Miss Barkley asks the narrator if he has ever loved anyone and he answers that he has not.
The narrator compliments Miss Barkley’s hair and she explains that she wanted to cut it off after her fiance died. She wishes she had given him something because she didn’t care about “the other thing and he could have had it all.” She admits that she knows “all about it now. But then he wanted to go to war and I didn’t know.” The narrator asks the other nurse’s name and Miss Barkley says that her name is Helen Ferguson. She asks if his Italian friend is a surgeon and the narrator explains that he is a very good surgeon. Miss Barkley is relieved to find a good surgeon so close to the front. She calls it a “silly front” but observes that it is very beautiful. She explains that she got into nursing when her fiance entered the war. She admits that she had the “silly notion” that her fiance would show up in her hospital with a picturesque wound like a saber cut that she could heal. She goes on to remark that if anyone ever saw the horror of the front in France, the war couldn’t possibly go on. Her fiance, she explains, was blown to bits by artillery. She asks if the war will ever end and the narrator says that it will crack somewhere. Miss Barkley is of the opinion that the French and British will crack in France because battles like the Somme can’t continue to happen. She does not think the Germans will crack.
Miss Ferguson and Rinaldi are drawn into the conversation and Rinaldi is confused to find out that Miss Ferguson is from Scotland, which is not part of England. Walking home, Rinaldi observes that Miss Barkley prefers the narrator but that the Scotch nurse is nice. When the narrator asks if Rinaldi likes the Scotch nurse, Rinaldi says that he does not.
The following afternoon the narrator returns to the British hospital to visit Miss Barkley. The head nurse asks why he is in the Italian army and the narrator responds that he happened to be in Italy and spoke the language. He asks if it is too late to join the British army and she says that it is. The head nurse tells him that Miss Barkley is on duty but he can return at 7:00 PM to see her.
The narrator describes his activities of the morning, which had included going up the river to the spot where the next offensive would occur. The Italians had held a bridgehead across the river only a few yards from the Austrian lines. The small town that had formerly occupied the spot had been reduced to rubble. While walking among these ruins, now full of artillery emplacements, dugouts and signal rockets, the narrator encounters a captain that he knows and they share a drink. The narrator returns to the Italian side of the river to survey the new road being built to transport men and materiel to the launching point. He notes that the ambulances will go down the new road and wait in a sheltered spot for the wounded to be brought across the pontoon bridge from the dressing station and there to the hospital via the old, narrow road. On the way back to Gorizia, the narrator encounters a spot where several large shells have just landed and two Italian sentries hold him up before he can proceed.
After dinner, he returns to the British hospital and finds Miss Barkley with Miss Ferguson. After much excuse making, Miss Ferguson leaves them. Miss Barkley, whose first name is Catherine, briefly discusses her role as a V.A.D., a sort of nurses’ assistant and then, at the narrator’s request, they try to talk about something other than the war. He holds her hand and she does not resist until he tries to put his arm around her. He attempts to kiss her and she slaps him. She immediately apologizes by saying that she “just couldn’t stand the nurse’s-evening-off aspect of it” and he reassures her that she did right to strike him. The narrator comments that he was “angry and yet certain, seeing it all ahead like the moves in a chess game.” She gives him permission to kiss her again and he does so forcibly until she shivers in his embrace and begins to cry on his shoulder. She asks him to be good to her because they will have a “strange life together.” The narrator thinks she is a little crazy but humors her in her emotional state. He walks her to her villa and then returns to his room where Rinaldi accuses him of having “that pleasant air of a dog in heat.”
After two days at the posts, the narrator returns to the village but he is too late to see Miss Barkley until the following evening. While he waits for her in the hospital’s office, he notes the great quantity of marble busts in the corridor. He thinks about the steel helmet he wears at the front and the English gas mask he has just received. He can feel the weight and bulk of the Austria 7.65 caliber pistol he is required to wear pressing into his back. He feels ridiculous carrying a pistol, especially one with such a barrel so short that he can’t hit anything, but is able to forget about it except as a “vague sort of shame” when in the presence of English-speaking people.
Miss Barkley appears and greets the narrator formally by calling him Mr. Henry [the first time in the book that the narrator’s name is used]. They go to the garden to get away from the eavesdropping orderly in the office. In the garden she refers to him as “darling” and wants to know where he’s been and why he could not send a note. She insists that he call her by her first name and asks if he loves her. He lies and tells her that he does. She asks him to say “I’ve come back to Catherine in the night” and he does. She confesses that she loves him. He kisses her and seeing that her eyes are shut he kisses them as well.
He notes to the reader that he did not care what he was getting into, only that it was better than going to the officer’s bordello. He considers the courting to be a sort of game like bridge with stakes. After kissing her for awhile standing, up he remarks to the reader that he was “experiencing the masculine difficulty of making love very long standing up.”
They sit on a bench, but she will not allow him to put his arm around her. Her mood suddenly shifts and she admits that they are playing a “rotten game.” She says that he is a nice boy and does not have to love her. He lies that he does and she tells him not to lie, and though she had a “very fine little show” she’s well again. She insists that she is not crazy, only a little off sometimes. He promises to come and see her again and obtains one more kiss, which she breaks off prematurely and leaves.
He confesses to the reader that he liked to watch her move. He passes by the Villa Rosa (the bordello) but proceeds home. Rinaldi returns drunk from the Villa Rosa soon thereafter and declares that he is glad he did not become “involved with the British.”
Book I Chapters 1-6 Analysis
In this first section of chapters, Hemingway’s use of first-person narration and typically lean writing style means that the reader is introduced to the world of the story suddenly and is left to discover the circumstances from the narration. Over the course of these chapters, for instance, we learn without being explicitly told, that the narrator’s name is Frederic Henry and that he is an American serving as a lieutenant ambulance driver in the Italian army. Although he takes his responsibilities seriously, evidenced by his attention to detail, he feels no great loyalty to the Italian cause. For him, the war is not a question of patriotism but of time and place. As he admits to Catherine Barkley on their first meeting, he doesn’t know why he joined the Italian army only that he happened to be in Italy at the time. He is outgoing and thoughtful but unwilling to emotionally commit to any one person or ideology. Rinaldi is his partner in this outlook, but Frederic’s obvious sympathy for the priest belies a deeper inner life. Nevertheless, his perception of his burgeoning relationship with Catherine as being nothing more than a game with carnal satisfaction, as the implicit object reveals him to be at this point in the story, is somewhat shallow. Catherine, on the other hand, has been deeply affected by the loss of her fiance on the western front. She is emotionally vulnerable but possesses a keen intellect and a willingness and ability to detach herself from the course of ordinary life. Their attraction is almost immediate.
A Farewell To Arms Summary – Book I Chapters 7-12
It is two days before the scheduled offensive and the narrator is sitting in an ambulance waiting for the wounded men’s paperwork to be processed. He notices that a limping straggler from a passing column of soldiers sits down by the side of the road. After a brief exchange with the man he learns that the man has a rupture (a non-war-related injury) and has purposefully lost his support truss so as not to have to go back to the front. He lets the man into the ambulance. The man tries to convince the narrator to take him to a hospital but the narrator observes that without paperwork it would do him no good. He tells the soldier, who speaks English and has spent time in the United States, that he will let him out away from his column and then the man should get a bump on the head so that when the narrator returns in the ambulance he can take him to the hospital as wounded. The soldier agrees but when the narrator returns he sees that the soldier, with a fresh wound on his head, is being picked up by members of his regiment.
He returns to the villa at five o’clock in the evening and sends some pre-printed postcards to the United States where he knows they will seem foreign and strange to his relatives. While he is filling out reports he muses on the disposition of the Italian army, his desire to visit Austria after the war, and the chance that France will capitulate to Germany. He fantasizes about taking Catherine Barkley to a hotel in Milan and making love with her. He describes that evening’s mess as dull. After some conversation with the priest and some jokes with the other officers, he begins a half-hearted drinking contest [during the course of which we learn that his first name is Frederic though it is rendered in the Italian “Frederico”]. He cuts it short when he remembers that he wants to visit Catherine. Rinaldi makes him chew some coffee beans to keep from being too drunk. At the British hospital, Miss Ferguson tells him that Catherine is not feeling well and advises him to return the following day. He remarks that, though he had taken it lightly, not seeing Catherine now makes him feel empty and lonely.
The following afternoon word goes out that there will be an attack up the river that night that will require all four ambulances. Frederick stops by the British hospital before he leaves and Catherine gives him a St. Anthony medallion to wear around his neck but he puts it in his pocket instead. When he returns to the ambulance the driver tells him that he must wear it around his neck to be protected, so he moves it. They race ahead and catch up with the other ambulances. Frederick remarks on the disposition of a mule train and the beauty of the landscape, particularly the Austrian mountains, which rise ever higher against one another in the distance. It is dusk when they reach the main road that runs along the river.
The ambulances arrive at the ruined rail station by the river where the attack is to begin. Frederic notices a corn stalk canopy meant to prevent the ambulances from being shelled as they evacuate the wounded. A soldier shows him a dugout where his men can wait. Frederic finds the major in charge of the operation and they drink rum. He learns that the attack is to begin after dark. He returns to his men and gives them each a pack of loosely packed cigarettes. They complain of hunger and he inquires at the command post about food and learns that they will be fed as soon as the field kitchen is up and running. He returns to his men and notes that as mechanics they all hated the war. They talk of a recent mutiny by Italian troops who would not attack and every tenth man was shot. They note that the families of men who are accused of cowardice suffer as well, otherwise no one would attack. They argue over the best way to end the war. Frederic insists that the only way to end the war is to win but his men, whom he allows to talk freely, insist it would be better simply to give up and then the war would end. Passini points to the Austrian mountains and states that there is no way to take all of Austria and the others, Gavuzzi, Manera and Gordini seem to agree. Grodini, the quietest of the four, accompanies Frederic to the major’s tent where they beg for some cold pasta and cheese. Outside, the bombardment begins. On the way back to the dugout, they narrowly escape being killed by a falling shell.
Frederic and the mechanics eat the macoroni and cheese with their hands and wash it down with wine while the shelling continues. A direct hit on the dugout causes complete havoc and Frederic becomes aware that he is wounded and cannot reach Passini who has lost one leg and is bleeding from the other. He drags himself to Passini and tries to fashion a tourniquet but the man dies. Frederic’s head explodes with pain and he feels that his knee has moved to his shin. Pain overcomes him as Manera and Gavuzzi carry him to the aid station. They drop him twice on the way and he swears at them.
While he is waiting for treatment at the aid station, a British ambulance driver offers him a cigarette and Frederic offers him the use of his ambulances. The English driver promises to be careful with them and return them safely to the villa. The English driver, against Frederic’s wishes, convinces the Italian doctors to treat him ahead of the others and tells them that Frederic is alternately the legitimate son of President Wilson and the only son of the American ambassador. The surgeon examines Frederic’s wounds to the right knee and foot and head and offers him a drink of brandy. The surgeon tells him that the real pain will arrive soon but that he will be well in time. Frederic is loaded into a British ambulance below a wounded man whose blood drips onto him during the journey. The man dies and is replaced by another wounded man at the top of the hill.
Some time passes. Frederic is in a ward at the field hospital. His orderly tries to keep the flies away and it is very hot. He describes the ward and how each morning three nurses and a doctor make the rounds. One morning his orderly is scratching the soles of his feet for him when Rinaldi pays him a visit. Rinaldi is very excited and comical. As in other conversations, he affectionately refers to Frederic as “baby”. He brings a bottle of cognac and news that Frederick is to be decorated and even receive a silver medal if he can prove he was heroic. When Frederic replies that he was “blown up while we were eating cheese” Rinaldi insists there was heroism in his actions. Frederick learns that the attack was successful. Rinaldi proceeds to send the orderly for a corkscrew, brag about his increasing skill as a surgeon, suggest that Frederick might also qualify for an English medal and serve the cognac – all the while fawning over Frederic’s wounds. He complains that the girls at the bordello have not changed in two weeks and they’ve become friends. He remarks that the priest is coming with big preparations and then jokes that Frederic and the priest are “a little bit that way”” [meaning homosexual]. He insists that Frederic is an Italian and that they are brothers. Rinaldi promises to send Catherine to see Frederick and makes a rude joke about the difference between intercourse with a good girl and a woman. He departs after lavishing more sardonic affection and leaves the cognac under the bed.
In the evening the priest comes for a visit. He is timid and awkward and seems very tired. He brings English newspapers and a bottle of vermouth. Frederick insists that they drink some of the vermouth and as they drink the priest talks of the difference between the officers and the enlisted men and the differences between those who make a war and those, like Passisni, who would not make war. Eventually their talk turns to the nature of love and the priest, who loves God, makes the observation that love makes one want to serve another. The priest insists that one day Frederic will know this kind of love. The priest leaves and Frederic muses on the sylvan beauty of the priest’s rural home in Abruzzi before falling asleep.
After some time in the ward, Frederick is told that he will be sent to Milan in order to get better x-rays of his leg and where he can do therapy after the operation. The night before Frederic is scheduled to leave, Rinaldi and the major from the mess come to tell him he will be sent to the new American hospital in Milan. The major and Rinaldi ask if the United States will declare war on Austria since it has recently declared war on Germany and Frederic enthusiastically and somewhat drunkenly asserts that it will. As they get more drunk, Frederic describes the process of receiving money from his grandfather through sight drafts at the bank. Rinaldi and the major assure Frederic that he will have a fine time in Milan. Before they leave, the major tells Frederick that Miss Barkley is to be transferred to the American hospital in Milan as well.
It takes forty-eight miserable hot hours on the train to reach Milan. During a stop in Mestre, Frederic sends a boy to get him a bottle of grappa. He and his fellow passengers get drunk. Somewhere past Vicenza he asks a soldier for some water and also receives a pulpy orange that he eats immediately.
Book I Chapters 7-12 Analysis
These chapters give some intimation of Frederic’s progress toward realizing the type of love described by the priest, that of wanting to serve someone or something. Frederic admits to himself that when he stays too long drinking at the mess and then discovers that he may not see Catherine, it affects him more than he would have suspected. At this point, however, the war intrudes. Frederic is wounded suddenly by a falling shell while he and his men are eating. The injuries he incurs are severe enough to warrant medals but not so bad that Rinaldi and the major can’t express happiness for his return to Milan where they believe he will have a good time while recovering. The knowledge that Catherine will be there as well, sets the stage for a different experience than when he last visited the city and stayed out late drinking and went home with a different girl every night. Significantly, the injuries that Frederic has sustained are the kind that Catherine had originally hoped would befall her fiance. The stage is set for their romance to begin.
A Farewell To Arms Summary – Book II Chapters 13-19
It is early morning when the train reaches Milan and after an ambulance ride to the new hospital, Frederic is painfully carried into the elevator. He is the hospital’s first patient. The elderly nurse and the attendants, who are roused from sleep, insist that they are not ready for a patient, but the pain in Frederic’s legs compels him to insist that he be put into a room immediately. He is placed on an unmade bed in a room that smells of new furniture. After tipping the men that carried him up, he gives his papers to the nurse but she cannot read Italian and begins to cry. He learns that her name is Mrs. Walker and in a kindly tone he tells her and the porter to leave so that he can sleep.
When he wakes, a young pretty nurse is there. He asks if Miss Barkley has arrived but learns that she has not. The younger nurse, whose name is Miss Gage, washes him and tells him that the doctor is away but will return. He jokes with Miss Gage about his wounds. She and Mrs. Walker change the bed while he is still lying on it, a process he describes as an “admirable proceeding.” He learns that at the moment there are just two nurses plus Miss Van Campen the superintendent. Miss Gage doesn’t know when the new nurses will be arriving. That afternoon the stuffy and proper Miss Van Campen pays him a visit and they immediately take a dislike to one another. She forbids him to have any wine. After she leaves, however, he sends the porter out for two bottles and drinks one of them while he reads the papers. Miss Gage returns with some eggnog and sherry and later some supper. After eating, Frederic falls asleep for the night, awaking once from a bad dream and then again at dawn before falling back to sleep.
Miss Gage comes to bathe him. She tells him that she found his bottle of vermouth while he was sleeping and that she has placed both bottles in the room’s amoire. She admonishes him for not asking for a glass and sharing the bottle with her. She tells him that Miss Barkley has arrived and Frederic requests a barber. The barber acts very suspiciously and afterward the amused porter tells him that the barber thought Frederic was an Austrian officer. Catherine comes to see him and he suddenly realizes that he is in love with her. He convinces her to have intercourse and afterward she cautions that they must be very careful not to be discovered. After she leaves, he admits to himself that he had not want to fall in love with her but since it has happened he is happy. Later Miss Gage tells him that the doctor will be there that afternoon.
The doctor, a thin and quiet man, probes Frederic’s wounds and removes several small steel splinters. He sends Frederic to another hospital for x-rays and later Catherine comes to the room to show them to Frederic. After a while, three doctors arrive. Frederic observes that they do not seem to be very competent and he rejects their assessment that they must wait at least six months before they can remove the shrapnel. After they leave, Frederic asks the house doctor to return and explains that he cannot wait six months. The house doctor mistakes his impatience as an honorable desire to return to the fighting. The house doctor agrees to send another surgeon and refuses a drink before he leaves. The new doctor, Doctor Valentini arrives in much haste. He immediately gleans that Catherine and Frederic are lovers and makes much merriment out of the situation. When Frederic offers him a drink, he readily accepts. Dr. Valentini states that he will operate in the morning and promises to bring better cognac. Frederic notes that unlike the other doctor, who was a captain, this doctor is a major.
Catherine surreptitiously spends the night before the operation with Frederic. The next morning, while she prepares him for surgery, they banter about their relationship and she asks him not to think of her when he goes under the ether or he might talk too much. She questions him about his past lovers and they humor each other with the lie that he has never been with anyone but her. She promises to be dutiful to him always. He convinces her to return to bed with him and she readily capitulates.
When Frederic wakes up after the operation, he is very nauseous. Miss Gage tells him that the doctor did a good job on his knee. Some time passes and other patients arrive at the hospital. Catherine becomes popular among the nurses because she is always willing to do night duty. During a conversation with Miss Ferguson, who aids their relationship by passing notes between them during the day, Frederic asks if she will come to their wedding and she declares that they will quarrel or he will die before they marry. She warns him not to get Catherine in trouble and leave her with a war baby and he promises he that he will not. Miss Ferguson implores Frederic to ask Catherine to stay off night duty for awhile because she is getting tired and Miss Van Campen is growing suspicious. Later Frederic asks Miss Gage to advise Catherine to lay off night duty and she admits that she knows of their romance. She accepts a drink and advises Frederic that she is a true friend and one day he will appreciate it. Catherine is off night duty for three days and when she comes back it’s as if they had been parted for much longer.
Frederic and Catherine have a wonderful summer while he recovers from the surgery. They go for carriage rides and become regulars at a restaurant where the headwaiter befriends them and even loans Frederic some money when he is short. In the evenings they frequent the shops and then in the nights they sit on the balcony outside his room. Later, after Catherine determines it is safe, they go to bed together and he explores her body. Each of them considers themselves married but Catherine points out that if they had an actual ceremony, rules would require that she be sent away soon afterward. Frederic wants to be really married and worries about a baby, but Catherine insists that they are as good as married already. She confesses that she can’t bear to be separated from him and she will always be faithful. He comments that soon he will have to return to the front and she begs him to think instead about their present joy.
In a series of passages, Frederic describes to the reader some of the more pleasurable events during the summer of his convalescence. Thanks to the physical therapy, his leg heals quickly. The Italians have many victories in the war and Milan is a joyful place. He walks with a cane and sometimes goes to the races or the cafes and at other times he goes to the Anglo-American Club to read magazines. Because he is no longer on crutches, he and Catherine’s outings must now be chaperoned. Miss Van Campen accepts that Catherine and Frederic have a blossoming relationship. Frederic notes that though the United States enters the war that summer, it will take a year to get any sizable force of troops trained and over the Atlantic. Since things are going poorly in France, he thinks that the war might go on for quite some time. He notes that the Italians are losing too many men in their battles and observes that Napoleon would have let his enemy come to him instead of making risky attacks in the mountains.
Frederic describes meeting “old Meyers and his wife” one afternoon. They discuss the races and Mrs. Meyers tells Frederic that he and all the other wounded at the hospital are her “dear boys.” After seeing the Meyers, Frederic buys some chocolates for Catherine and stops to have a drink with some people he knows, a vice-counsel, two men studying singing and Ettore Moretti, an Italian from San Francisco serving in the Italian army. One of the singers is named Ralph Simmons but is singing under the name Enrico DelCredo and the other is named Edgar Suanders and sings under the pseudonym of Edourado Giovanni. The trio poke fun at each other about their abilities and the difficulty of performing in certain Italian cities. Ettore has many medals and congratulates Frederic on the silver medal they all believe he will receive. Ettore shows off his scars and advises Frederic to enlist in the American army so he will make more money. Frederic notes that Ettore was a genuine hero who bored everyone he met and Catherine could not stand him.
Later, on the balcony, Catherine says she only wants Frederic to have enough rank to get into the better restaurants and when he admits that he already holds that rank, she says it is a “splendid rank.” It’s raining as they talk on the balcony and Catherine confesses that she has always been afraid of the rain. Frederic says that he likes the rain but that he loves her. She admits that she fears the rain because sometimes she can envision herself or him dead in it. She begins to cry and he comforts her.
Book II Chapters 13-19 Analysis
Throughout the novel, Frederic Henry’s outlook on life remains that of a Hemingway hero (i.e. Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises and Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls). These men are somewhat detached from life but vigorously engaged in living with little patience for those who disagree. For instance, those doctors who want to wait to operate are portrayed as timid and fearful. They don’t drink and have low rank. Dr. Valentini, on the other hand, wants to operate immediately, readily accepts a drink, has the insight to see Catherine and Frederic’s love and holds the rank of major. He is the embodiment of the self-assured man and it is by this gauging rather than nervously proffered medical advice that Frederic basis his opinion.
During this part of the story Frederic and Catherine fall in love and their romance develops both emotionally and physically. They are both now admittedly in love with one another and consummate that love in Frederic’s hospital bed. The war recedes into the background and we glimpse it only as the headlines in the papers that Frederic reads or in the mood of the people of Milan. The scenes during which Frederic and Catherine interact with people outside their relationship, people like the Meyers or Frederic’s singing friends, add color to the story and serve to remind the reader that Frederic and Catherine increasingly view themselves and their love as apart from the real world. Of course, both Frederic and Catherine know that their summer idyll must come to an end. Catherine’s confession that the rain causes her to think of death reveals that she at least is coming to terms with the uncertainties looming in their future.
A Farewell To Arms Summary – Book II Chapters 20-24
This selection of chapters opens with the details of an afternoon at the races. In addition to Frederic and Catherine, the party includes Miss Ferguson and a fellow patient at the hospital named Crowell Rodgers who has been wounded in the eyes. Frederic notes that the racing in Italy was crooked and only the most disreputable jockeys were racing there. Old Meyers always has inside information and occasionally gives Frederic or more often Rodgers a tip. Mr. Meyers never gives his wife any information. Mrs. Meyers talks constantly. The party bets on a horse called Japalac that looks like it has been dyed. Sure enough, the horse is a ringer and despite the jockey’s efforts to reign him in, Japalac finishes well ahead of the others. Catherine is disappointed when Meyers tells her that instead of paying thirty five-to-one, the horse will barely pay two-to-one because of last minute betting. At the betting booths they have whiskey and soda and old Meyers gives them a tip on a horse that wins but due to crooked betting doesn’t pay anything. Catherine and Frederic leave the party to get nearer the horses and bet on a loser that makes Catherine happy. They admit to each other that they like being alone together more than with the group. They are happy.
September comes and the nights turn cold. The racing has moved back to Rome and the war is going badly for the Italians who cannot take the well-fortified mountain town of San Gabriel. There are riots against the war and the Italian army continues to lose many men. Frederic meets a pessimistic British major who declares that the Italians have bitten off more than they can chew and the whole war is going very badly. On the way home, an old man cuts Frederic’s silhouette and does not charge him for the work. At the hospital there is mail, including a letter that says that he must return to service three weeks after his treatment is finished – the date he must return is October twenty-fifth. One of the letters is from Rinaldi who wants some phonograph records. Frederic goes to bed and reads the American papers, which are all about baseball and training camps, and he is glad he is not in a training camp. Catherine comes at 9 o’clock and they discuss where they will go during his three weeks of leave. She seems upset and after he questions her several times she admits that she is three month’s pregnant. She admonishes him not to worry on her behalf and that she will see to everything. After an awkward moment, they agree to be one soul again and not let anything come between them. They discuss the nature of bravery and she pours him a drink. She leaves to look after the other patients but agrees to return.
The weather turns cold and rainy and Frederic contracts jaundice which prevents him and Catherine from going anywhere during his three weeks of leave. While he is convalescing Miss Van Campen finds the empty bottles of brandy in the amoire and accuses Frederic of intentionally contracting jaundice with alcoholism in order to avoid being sent to the front. He counters by asking how many of her patients have avoided the front by kicking themselves in the scrotum – the nearest sensation to jaundice he can conjure and one he doesn’t believe that a woman can appreciate. Miss Van Campen leaves in a huff but Miss Gage comes later and admonishes Frederic for not having disposed of the bottles earlier. Miss Van Campen takes the bottles and makes a report of Frederic’s drinking, but nothing happens as a result.
The night, Frederic must leave to return to the front and he sends the porter with his luggage to hold a place on the train. He spends some time in a cafe drinking coffee and grappa before he meets Catherine and they walk toward the station. They stop at an armorer’s shop and Frederic purchases a new pistol that fits his holster. They walk a bit further and kiss. Catherine agrees to accompany Frederic to a hotel across from the train station but protests that she doesn’t have a nightgown. They hail a carriage and stop at a shop where she purchases a nightgown. They go to the hotel and order dinner for the room. The room is lavishly but cheaply furnished with velvet and mirrors. Catherine is unhappy and admits that she feels like a whore. She recovers her spirits quickly, however, and they eat and then make love and feel much better. The room begins to seem much more like their own and they get drunk together. Catherine promises to write every day Frederic is at the front and they discuss the happy life they will lead when he has returned.
It is raining. Frederic and Catherine get a carriage and she leaves him at the station with few words. On the train, Frederic takes the place saved by the porter’s friend but a captain accosts him and insists that he has no right to have a seat saved. After a moment’s hesitation, Frederic gives the captain the seat and tips the porter and his friend. Frederic knows he has no chance of a seat for most of the trip. Frederic sleeps on the floor of the train.
Book II Chapters 20-24 Analysis
This latter portion of Book 3 concludes the idyll in Milan. As the weather turns from summer to fall the lover’s humor begins to change as well. Lighthearted episodes like the day at the races, during which Catherine and Frederic fully realize their complete happiness with one another, are replaced with more serious moments such as the pessimistic British officer’s morose assessment of the war. Most significantly, Catherine admits that she is pregnant and the couple experiences their first misunderstanding and feeling of distance. Though they reaffirm their love, the coming child and looming separation means that they will face great obstacles. Finally, as the time for Federic’s departure grows near, the couple’s luck begins to turn for the worse. He develops jaundice and spends his leave time recovering. The rain that permeates their parting sets a somber mood and recalls Catherine’s fear of death.
A Farewell To Arms Summary – Book III Chapters 25-27
It is fall and Frederic observes that the village of Gorizi is gloomy and more damaged by the war than when he left in the spring. He sees the major who is friendly but has become disillusioned now that the war has turned against the Italians. He asks if Frederic has received his decorations and Frederic tells him that he has. He instructs Frederic to go the Bainsizza the next day and take command of four ambulances working in the mountains there. Frederic returns to his room and while he waits for Rinaldi, he thinks about Catherine. Rinaldi returns and although he is happy to see Frederic, he is depressed by the war. He inspects Frederic’s knee and insists that more physical therapy should have been done but Frederic insists that it is better. Rinaldi chides Frederic for having returned too serious and though Frederic is recovering from the jaundice, he agrees to have some cognac. While they drink, Rinaldi asks about Miss Barkley and Frederic admits that he is in love. Rinaldi tries to make light of the affair but when Frederic tells him to stop if he wants to continue being his friend, Rianaldi relents. Rinaldi somberly reflects that only drinking, whoring, and his work bring him pleasure anymore and Frederic and he reaffirm their friendship.
At the mess that night it is only Frederic, Rinaldi and the major. The priest joins them halfway through the meal and is pleased to see Frederic. Rinaldi grows more drunk and despondent and after unsuccessfully trying to bait the priest he begins to talk of having syphilis. Rinaldi leaves and the major explains to Frederic that Rinaldi has been working very hard and the major does not believe he has syphilis. He also mentions that there is talk of an Austrian offensive before winter but he doesn’t believe it will happen.
The priest and Frederic return to Frederic’s room and the priest talks of how the soldiers have begun to change and become gentle and complacent since the war has intensified. The priest believes the war will end soon but Frederic expresses doubts. Both men agree that neither has faith in victory or defeat any longer. The priest sees that Frederic is very tired and after they both affirm their enjoyment in talking to one another the priest leaves.
Early the next morning Frederic travels to the mountain village where the ambulances are stationed. He notes that it is odd to travel past the point where the previous spring he had been wounded. The village is badly damaged from the fighting but is well organized and he has no trouble locating his ambulances. Gino, the man he relieves, has also heard rumors of an impending attack, both by the Italians and the Austrians, but he believes neither rumor. They discuss the difficulty of holding the position if the Austrians do launch an attack. Frederic posits his theory that a war cannot be fought in the mountains but admits that since that is where they are fighting, he has not come up with a better idea. Frederic muses that abstract terms such as “honor” and “sacrifice” have come to mean little to him.
That night there is much artillery shelling and probing of the lines. The ambulances make several runs with the wounded and the rain turns to snow and then back to rain. The troops hear that the Austrians have broken through the Italian lines to the north but this report is officially denied though nobody, including the officers, knows what to believe. Frederic learns that if there is to be a retreat, the wounded are to be left behind and the ambulances are to be used to evacuate hospital equipment. The next night the retreat starts. It is an orderly and sullen affair in the rain. When they reach Gorizia the town is being evacuated and Federic and one of the drivers named Bonello converse about the girls from the bordello being loaded into an army truck. Frederic finds a note commanding him to load the hospital equipment into the ambulances for the retreat. The other two ambulances arrive and one of the drivers, Piani is exhausted and can think of nothing but sleep. Frederic offers to help the other driver Aymo change the oil and grease the cars but Ayamo insists that he does not need the help. They load the three ambulances with equipment and then they sleep for a few hours. Aymo makes pasta asciutta and they wash down the meal with two bottles of wine from the cellar. Frederic agrees to ride with Piani so he won’t fall back asleep. When they leave they take two more bottles of wine and some cheese for the journey.
Book III Chapters 25-27 Analysis
Frederic witnesses the changes in his friends and begins to understand the deleterious psychological effects of the worsening military situation. Rinaldi has become cynical and morose in his drinking and tortured by the thought syphilis. The priest has gained some confidence but is tired and serious. The talk is now of how to end the war and which side will capitulate first. The men have become cowed from living with death everyday. Frederic returns to duty as an officer in charge of ambulances but even as he goes through the motions of his duty, he realizes that the concepts he sought before his injury, things like “honor” and “duty”, mean nothing to him. The summer with Catherine has given his life a new direction and his role in the army is part of an old existence that no longer compels him. He does his duty, however, and organizes his small group for the retreat.
A Farewell To Arms Summary – Book II Chapters 28-32
The ambulances join the rainy retreat on the packed roads and soon the column comes to a standstill. Frederic walks ahead to find that the road is backed up for as far as he can see. He returns to the ambulance to find Piani asleep. Frederic sleeps as well. They awake when the truck in front of them starts to move. Soon thereafter the column comes to a stop again. He walks back to find that Bonello has picked up two sergeants of engineers who have become separated from their group and he gives permission for them to ride. In Aymo’s ambulance he finds two young girls scared out of their wits that Aymo will try to rape them but unwilling to leave the relative safety of the car. They eat some cheese and when Aymo learns that they are virgins he reassures them of their safety and they seem relieved. Frederic returns to his ambulance and comforts himself by dreaming of Catherine.
At 3:00 AM, Frederic reaches for the wine and admits to himself that if they ever hope to reach the fall back positions in Udine, they will have to leave the main road that is now hopelessly clogged with peasants and military vehicles and horses. He locates a side road and tells Bonello to keep the two engineers in his car because they might be needed to push. The two girls remain in Aymo’s vehicle though they will not be good for help. The road leads to an abandoned farmhouse and they breakfast on foraged wine, cheese and apples. It becomes clear that the sergeants dislike the drivers. Before they leave, Bonello fills their canteens with wine from a large jug. They get back in the cars and follow the road past the house.
They take many secondary roads and draw about ten kilometers away from Udine when at noon Aymo’s car becomes stuck in the mud. They hear the sound of planes bombing the main road. The two sergeants refuse to help and begin to walk away. They ignore Frederic’s command to return and he fires on them and hits one of them, the other escapes. Bonello eagerly asks to be allowed to finish off the wounded man and does so using Frederic’s pistol. After repeated attempts they cannot free the stranded car and decide to abandon it. The other two vehicles become mired in the muddy field and they start for Udine on foot. Frederic gives the frightened girls money and tells them to go to the main highway and find someone to take care of them. They walk fast for fear of being overtaken by the advancing Austrian army and, Frederic believes, for fear that he will take the money back.
Frederic and the drivers come to a river bridge lined with abandoned vehicles. Frederic climbs up to the bridge and looking at a bridge further down the river sees a staff car passing and recognizes German helmets on the passengers. In a few moments a troop of German bicycle soldiers passes on the other bridge. Frederic is very angry because seemingly no attempt has been made to stop the advance. They cross the bridge and follow railroad tracks across a flat plain. On the way they hear firing and see more German troops. When they try to leave the track and start across the field, Aymo is shot and killed by what they believe to be skittish Italian soldiers. Frederic, Bonello and Piani decide to hide until nightfall in an abandoned barn. Frederic lays down in the hay and begins to daydream about his childhood shooting sparrows. He dreams of Catherine. Piani returns with foraged goods and explains that Bonello has left to become a prisoner.
That night Piani and Frederic walk until they reach the main column of the retreat and Frederic muses that it was silly for Bonello to leave because he and Piani made it past both armies safely. Aymo’s death had been sudden and random and impossible to avoid. Piani and Frederic join the retreat and walk throughout the night. Frederic assures Piani he won’t report Bonello for desertion and as they walk they observe other soldiers calling for peace and throwing away their rifles. Piani says that he will no longer refer to Frederic as Tenente because some of the troops have been shooting officers. At daylight they reach the rain-swollen Tagliamento River. They join the crowd joylessly crossing over the wooden bridge and at they far side they encounter some officers and military police [carabinieri] pulling officers from the column. One of the police grabs Frederic and he resists but to no avail. He observes that the officers being questioned are then mercilessly shot and he runs for the river and dives into the cold water.
Frederic holds onto a piece of heavy lumber and succeeds in floating down river far enough to escape the soldier’s guns. After a struggle to avoid drowning he manages to drag himself ashore. He removes his clothing and squeezes the water from it before putting it back on. He counts his wet money and finds that he has three thousand lire. He removes the officer’s insignia from his sleeve and spends the day making his way across the Venetian plain until he reaches a railway where he waits. Finally a train comes down the track and he eludes the soldiers at a nearby bridge and manages to jump onto one of the passing freight cars. He quickly ducks under a canvas tarp covering some artillery guns immediately hits his head on a piece of equipment and feels blood coming from the wound. He knows the train is going to the town of Mestre and he resolves to get off before the train reaches the city limits. He is very hungry.
Lying on the floor of the freight car, Frederic thinks about his knee and decides that it has held up very well. He begins to think of Catherine but decides that until he is sure he will see her again it is best not to think of her. He realizes that he no longer feels any obligation to the Italian army. “I was not against them,’ he muses, “I was through.” He knows that Piani will report him as shot or drowned and he has no immediate concern except to reach Mestre and eat. He realizes that he will never see Rinaldi or the priest again because “that life was over.” He thinks about where he will go with Catherine when they are reunited.
Book II Chapters 28-32 Analysis
In this section Frederic comes to believe that the war is hopeless. The part that Frederic and his drivers play in the retreat becomes progressively more ridiculous and hopeless. The ambulances and their cargo are lost to the mud and Frederic shoots an Italian because the man will not obey an order and scared Italian soldiers shoot Aymo. Increasingly Frederic’s thoughts turn to Catherine during this portion of the story. His separation from the Italian cause is made complete when he realizes that the Italians will shoot him simply because he is an officer and the army is retreating. Earlier he had expressed his theory that a war cannot be won in the mountains and after seeing the evidence first hand, he resolves to make a separate peace. For the second time in the story he goes to Mestre on a train. This time, however, instead of riding inside drinking purchased grappa, he arrives under a tarp with a bleeding head and an empty stomach, a fugitive from the army, and in danger of being executed. He has fully shed his old life and embraced his future with Catherine and it is toward that goal that he now struggles.
A Farewell To Arms Summary – Book IV Chapters 33-37
Frederic drops off the train in Milan and goes to a wine shop for coffee and bread. The proprietor offers him some grappa and asks about the front. The proprietor immediately gleans that Frederic is in trouble and offers to help but Frederic insists he needs no help and leaves the shop. He takes a cab to hospital and calls on the porter and his wife who are happy to see him. He learns that Catherine has gone to Stresa. He takes another cab to the house of his friend Simmons who is studying singing. He finds Simmons still sleepy and in bed but very friendly. He learns that if he goes to Switzerland he will be officially interned but allowed to go anywhere he wants. When Simmons learns that Frederic must first go to Stesa he says that all he will need to do is row across the lake to Switzerland. Simmons gives Frederic some of his clothes and insists he stay for breakfast. Simmons is upset because although he can sing, he is not being received well in Italy.
In civilian clothes for the first time in a long time, Frederic takes the train to Stesa. On the way, soldiers give him scornful glances but since he has made a “separate peace” he is not bothered. The season is over in Stresa and there are not many people about. He takes a carriage to one of the larger hotels that stay open all year and he takes a good room with a view of the lake. He tells the staff that he is expecting his wife. He goes to the bar for a martini and the barman, whom he knows, offers to find out where the two English nurses are staying. He learns that they are staying at a small hotel near the station and after some more martinis and sandwiches Frederic goes to their hotel. He finds Catherine and Miss Ferguson in the dining room and Fergy gives him a hard time and is suspicious of his civilian clothes. Nevertheless, she intuits correctly that the two plan to “sneak off”. Ferguson becomes emotional and Catherine, obviously overjoyed at Frederic’s return, tries to comfort her.
Catherine joins Frederic in the larger hotel and that night, with the rain falling, he realizes that with Catherine he does not feel lonely or afraid. In the morning they have breakfast in bed and upon questioning, Frederic admits that if he is discovered he will most likely be shot. Catherine insists that they leave the country and he suggests Switzerland. When he says that he feels like a deserter she protests: “It’s only the Italian army” and he laughs. They agree to leave at the soonest opportunity.
Catherine goes to see Ferguson and Frederic goes to the bar. The barman tells him that a mutual acquaintance, Count Greffi, a ninety-four year old former ambassador for both Italy and Austria, wishes to play billiards during his stay. Frederic and the barman go out fishing in the barman’s small boat. Though they have no luck with the fish, they stop at an island for a drink. On the way back Frederic feels a strike in the trolling line but does not hook the fish. The barman offers the boat anytime Frederic wants to use it. Catherine and Frederic have lunch with Ferguson who is enamored of the grand hotel. Catherine privately lets on to Frederic that Ferguson is jealous of their love. After lunch Frederic and Catherine lie down in the room together. A servant comes to request that Frederic play billiards with Count Greffi that evening and he agrees though he is loath to leave Catherine. The count is very cordial and refined and they play a friendly game of billiards for stakes. Halfway through, they partake of some champagne. The count wins the game even after granting Frederic a handicap of eighteen points. After the game they drink a second bottle of champagne and the count expresses his regret that as he has grown older he has not become more devout. He reassures Frederic that love for a woman is a form of devotion. Frederic says, “It was a great pleasure” at their parting.
That night there is a storm. The barman, whose name is Emilio, comes to warn Frederic that in the morning he is to be arrested. Emilio advises Frederic to use his boat to flee to Switzerland. Frederic assents. Catherine pragmatically agrees to the journey. On the way out the porter insists that they take his big umbrella. The barman meets them at the boat with their bags and refuses immediate payment for the boat because they might need the money in Switzerland. He gives them sandwiches, brandy and wine and accepts fifty lire for the food and beverages. The barman tells Frederic how to row to Switzerland. It is eleven o’clock and the barman estimates that if they row all night they should cover the thirty-five kilometers and arrive in Swiss waters by seven in the morning.
Frederic rows the small boat through the rough waters all night. He and Catherine mark their progress by the lights of the towns they pass. Frederic’s hands grow sore from blisters. At Catherine’s suggestion, he uses the big umbrella as a sail but the wind catches it and turns it wrong side out. Catherine laughs at the sight of Frederic struggling with the upturned umbrella. After drinking some of the brandy Frederic rows some more. There is a full moon and for fear of being spotted by Italian border patrol officers on the lake they stay far out in the lake. Catherine rows while Frederic takes a break and she observes that if an oar hit her stomach life might be easier. He resumes duty at the oars.
At daylight, they see a patrol boat and a little later Frederic says they might be in Switzerland. Catherine expresses her desire for a big breakfast with rolls and butter and jam. They land in a small town they believe to be Brissago. They leave the boat at the shore and have breakfast in a cafe. Catherine is disappointed that they don’t have rolls but they are both thrilled to be in Switzerland. After breakfast, they have arrested but their American and British passports, their money and Frederic’s excuse that he is a sportsman looking for winter sport and that Catherine, whom he calls his cousin, is studying art is sufficient to clear them of suspicion. They are granted provisional visas and two of the officials engage in a comical argument over whether the couple would have better winter sport in Montreux or Locarno and they debate the differences between luging and tobogganing. Catherine desires to go to Monetreux, however, and that city wins out. Catherine and Frederic are slightly delirious and groggy but very happy when they reach the hotel.
Book IV Chapters 33-37 Analysis
In a wonderfully deadpan moment, Frederic survives near execution and drowning followed by a torturous train ride only to check into a nice hotel and find Catherine at lunch with Miss Ferguson who becomes emotional at the thought that Catherine will leave her all alone in Stresa. Fergy’s questions about their intentions, far from driving them further apart, help them to reaffirm their mutual understanding and love. Frederic’s failure to see that Fergy’s emotions are rooted in jealousy reveal that he has a few things more to learn about the inner life of women.
Frederic’s dialogue with Count Greffi in a sense completes the thoughts previously espoused by the priest and brings to Frederic’s attention the true scope of his love for Catherine. He realizes that she has become his religion and that which he desires to serve. During this brief interlude in Stresa, Frederic is happy to simply be with Catherine and though he could be shot if he is discovered he doesn’t take any concrete steps to secure his safety. This is due in part to complacency and in part out of consideration for Catherine’s well being. The barman’s warning presses the issue for them and they resolve to flee immediately. Frederic and Catherine’s ordeal crossing the lake mirrors Frederic’s earlier escape from the executioners but this journey they take together. It is the final separation from their old life in Italy and its associations with the war to a new one in Switzerland that has as its foundation only their devotion to each other.
A Farewell To Arms Summary – Book V Chapters 38-41
It is autumn and Catherine and Frederic are living in a rented brown wooden house on the side of a pine tree covered mountain outside of Montreux. Frederic describes the early morning activities of their landlady, Mrs. Guttingen, who starts the fire and brings them breakfast in bed. From the bedroom windows, they have a view across a lake to the snow-topped mountains of France beyond. They take many walks in the woods, play many hands of cards and read many books. Mr. Guttingen is a retired headwaiter and he and his wife are very happy in their life together. Though they choose to spend most of their time in the countryside, Frederic and Catherine sometimes walk to Montreux for Catherine to have her hair done and Frederic to drink beer and read the papers. On one such visit Catherine expresses her desire to have a beer as well because the doctor has told her that it will help keep the baby small. It is best that the baby be small because she has narrow hips. She refuses Frederic’s proposal that they marry immediately and insists they wait until after the baby is born and she is thin again. They talk of all the sights in the United States that they will visit once the baby is born and they are legally married.
The first snow arrives three days before Christmas. They take a walk to the station in the blowing snow and have vermouths at the inn next door. They fill their days with pleasant conversation. Catherine asks Frederic to grow a beard for the fun of it and he agrees, she asks if he is growing tired of her and he disagrees, she suggests that she would like to cut her hair short and he observes that he would not like that at all. Upon questioning Frederic admits that he thinks about his friends like Rinaldi and the priest who are still in the war but insists that he doesn’t miss them at all.
By the middle of January, Frederic has a full beard and he and Catherine take many walks in the snow-covered mountains. Often they stop at an inn where the woodcutters come to drink hot red spiced wine. “It was a fine country,” observes Frederic, “and every time that we went out it was fun.” During one such visit, they vow not to let the baby come between them. Catherine asks about their money and Frederic replies that thanks to his family, they have enough. They reaffirm their love for one another.
Their winter idyll continues to be pleasant until March when the rains come and turn the mountain into a muddy morass. The baby, whom they refer to as “Little Catherine” is due in just over a month and they decide to move to the nearby town of Lausanne where the hospital is located. Mr. and Mrs. Guttingen express sorrow at their departure and ask them to return when the baby has been born and the weather improved. In Lausanne, they take a room in a medium-sized hotel. It is March of 1918 and Frederic is drinking whiskey and soda while reading about the German offensive in the papers when Catherine observes that she will need to buy some baby clothes. He remarks that as a nurse she should know about such things and she rejoins that very few of the soldiers had babies in the hospital. He jokes back that he, at least, had a baby in the hospital and she swats him with a pillow. They order dinner and wine sent to the room and Frederic muses on the pleasures of good whiskey.
They spend three weeks at the hotel. Frederic passes his mornings by practicing boxing at the gym, though he notes that he found it difficult to properly shadow box in the mirror because the sight of a boxer with a beard looked silly. He and Catherine take afternoon carriage rides into the country. The weather turns more agreeable with the approach of spring and time seems more precious. “We knew the baby was very close now,” he muses, “and it gave us both a feeling as though something were hurrying us and we could not lose any time together.”
At three o’clock in the morning one night Catherine begins to have labor pains. Frederic calls the doctor and he says that he will meet them at the hospital. Catherine is given a room and a nightgown and Frederic sits on a chair in the hallway to wait. Eventually the nurse calls him back to the room. Catherine’s pains become more regular and, in her desire to have the baby with minimal trouble, she calls the big pains “good” and the little ones “bad”. She and the nurse insist that Frederic go get some breakfast because first pregnancies usually involve long labors and there is plenty of time. Outside it is growing light and he goes to a nearby cafe and has some brioche, wine and coffee. He returns to the hospital to find Catherine in the delivery room. The doctor is giving her gas for the pains.
By noon Catherine’s pains have slackened but she is exhausted by the ordeal and is a little delirious from the gas’ affects. Catherine insists that the doctor have lunch. He leaves Frederic to administer the gas. At two o’clock Frederic returns to the cafe for lunch and beer and while he eats he muses on a woman with a child in the cafe and wonders how her births went. He returns to the hospital to find Catherine partly drunk from the gas but insisting that she will not die. The doctor asks Frederic to leave so he can make an examination and while he waits Frederic worries that Catherine will die. He thinks that this is the price of a night of love in Milan and that though her pregnancy has been easy they are paying for their pleasure now at the end. He tries to reassure himself that she will be all right. The doctor comes and tells him that the baby will not come on its own and he recommends a Caesarean operation. After some questioning Frederic gives the doctor permission to perform the operation as soon as possible. He goes to see Catherine before the operation and she is distraught with the pain and exhaustion. The small doses of gas no longer ease her pain and she begs for a large dose. Frederic administers a very large dose but latter admits that going above a certain point on the dial made him nervous. When she returns to consciousness she explains that she is broken and feels like she might die. He insists that she cannot die because he won’t allow her.
They take Catherine into the operating room and Frederic cannot bear to watch the procedure. He stays in the hall. After awhile he sees the doctor and some nurses emerge with a newborn child and he follows them. It is a boy and Frederic observes that he feels no emotions of fatherhood. When the nurse asked him if he wants a son he says no and that he is not proud of the boy because he almost killed his mother. The doctor is examining the child and looks worried when Frederic leaves the room and finds Catherine looking almost dead. He watches another doctor sew up the incision on her belly. He accompanies the stretcher to her room and she revives moaning. He tells her that they’ve had a fine looking son and the nurse looks at him strangely. She insists that he leave so Catherine can rest. In the hallway the nurse explains that she thought he knew that the baby was born dead. Frederic returns to Catherine’s room and watches her sleep. He muses that in the end everyone dies, whether it happened suddenly or slowly the result was the same. He thinks that now Catherine will die. He remember a time at camp when he was young and he put a log full of ants in a fire and watched them perish though he had the power to save them.
Frederic returns to the now crowded cafe and has two orders of ham and eggs with several beers. The waiter remembers him from lunch. On another man’s paper he notices that there has been a breakthrough on the British front. He returns to the hospital and finds that Catherine has had a hemorrhage. He prays that she will not die. When he sees her she is gray and very weak. She believes that she will die and says she hates it. She says that she is afraid. She doesn’t want a priest, only Frederic. She makes him promise not to do or say any of their things with other girls. She slips into unconsciousness, has several more hemorrhages without waking and dies quickly.
The doctor wants to take Frederic back to the hotel but he refuses. Frederic will not speak of the operation with the doctor. Against the nurse’s wishes he enters Catherine’s room and forces the nurses to leave but when they are gone he realizes it is no good, “like saying good-by to a statue.” It is night and he walks back to the hotel in the rain.
Book V Chapters 38-41 Analysis
The winter of Catherine’s pregnancy operates in parallel to the summer she and Frederic spend falling in love in Milan. In Milan they discovered their love and a desire to be alone with each other. In Switzerland they are truly alone, however, and the outside world does intrudes into their relationship. They are insulated and happy. Catherine’s pregnancy is their only source of consternation but aside from her comment about her small hips even this does not deter their happiness. Their only desire is to have the baby and move on with their life together. The weeks before the baby is born are portrayed as a kind of stasis and serve as a parallel to the three weeks of leave he lost to jaundice at the end of their idyll in Milan. Frederic’s shadowboxing is a kind of allusion to the future that will not be rushed. Their wait ends with the onset of Catherine’s labor and as is progresses Frederic becomes increasingly isolated from her experience. Thanks to the ether Catherine also becomes detached from the protracted labor. Her frustration mounts and the ether’s effects begin to wear thin so it is with something like relief that she greets the operation. “Isn’t that grand,” she says to Frederic, “Now it will be all over in an hour.” The fact that Frederic prays during her operation reveals the extent to which he has identified her with his life. When she dies, he realizes that her death, far from holding purpose, is simply one more thing that has happened and could not have been altered. She has become “like a statue” to him in death and now that is over he has nothing left but the hotel and the rain.